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Civil War vets honored the memory of beloved York nurse

Scott Mingus photo of a diorama of the York U.S. Army General Hospital
Scott Mingus photo of a diorama of the York U.S. Army General Hospital

Amelia M. Kurtz never married, living with her sister Catherine (Kate) until the latter’s death when Amelia inherited their home on North George Street near Clarke Alley and a modest amount of stock. She was never very wealthy, although she was comfortable. Like her beloved uncle, Dr. John Frey Fisher, she had special interest in collecting rocks, minerals, and other natural curios. She and Kate gave the Historical Society of York some of their great-grandfather, John Fisher’s, collection, including a carved wooden head of an Indian chief and another carving of a deer’s head, complete with real antlers from a deer Fisher had shot back in 1756. He had made custom clocks and pianos.

Amelia led a quiet life, not calling attention to herself. By all accounts, she was selfless and took a genuine interest in helping others.

At her death in June 1912, this humble, gracious woman was recalled as one of York’s true heroines of the Civil War. Miss Kurtz had touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Union soldiers who either passed through York or came from the region during the war years.

Layout of the army hospital on Penn Commons (Scott Mingus photo).
Layout of the army hospital on Penn Commons (Scott Mingus photo).

According to the York Daily of June 24, 1912, “Members of General John Sedgwick post, No. 77 [sic, 37], Grand Army of the Republic, paid an unusual honor to the memory of Miss Amelia Margaret Kurtz during her funeral Saturday. Miss Kurtz died last Tuesday noon at the Kurtz family homestead, 21 North George street. She was a descendant of the Rev. Nicholas Kurtz, pastor of Christ Lutheran church during the Revolutionary war period, and who had the special honor of entertaining at his home in this city the chaplains of the continental congress, while that body sat in York.

“During the Civil war Miss Kurtz, who inherited intense patriotism from her ancestors, displayed her loyalty to the union by becoming one of the most prominent members of the Ladies’ Aid Society of York. The duties of this organization were to look after every interest of the soldiers from York county in the union army as well as those in the United States hospital, which for three years was located at Penn common. Hundreds of sick and wounded soldiers were treated there and Miss Kurtz visited the place daily and helped administer to the sick and wounded. She also on numerous occasions gave comfort and peace to the dying, reading the Bible almost daily to those who were passing away.

“Miss Kurtz was also one of the members of the committee of York women who made the American flag, 36 feet long and 12 feet wide that floated from a flag pole in Center square when the confederate soldiers entered York prior to the battle of Gettysburg. From her home on North George street Miss Kurtz saw the flag hauled down by order of General Gordon, who led the advance of Early’s division when they came into York Sunday morning, June 28, 1863.

“In October, 1864, Miss Kurtz was a member of the committee of women who welcomed home the York county regiments of Pennsylvania volunteers after they had completed their term of service in the army. She also aided in preparing the banquet given in honor of these soldiers, which was served in the chapel at Penn common.

“In recognition of her patriotism and loyalty to the union cause a delegation from General Sedgwick post, each a veteran of the Civil war, attended the funeral services Saturday morning. As the casket was borne from the house to the hearse, the old soldiers lined up and uncovered [their heads]. They were also present at the grave side where interment was made in Prospect Hill cemetery.  The services at the house and grave side were conducted by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Thompson Everett, pastor of Zion Lutheran church, of which congregation Miss Kurtz was a life-long member, being assisted by the Rev. George S. Sorber, pastor of Bethany Reformed church. Dr. Everett paid a tribute to Miss Kurtz’s memory and referred in the most tender terms of her life and especially her work as a nurse among the soldiers in the hospital on Penn common.

“The old soldiers who represented General Sedgwick post at the funeral were Henry J. Frey, post commander; David W. Crider, past post commander; John C. Hoffman, past post commander and John A. Morrison, quartermaster.

“The active pallbearers were Messrs. Edgar Y. Shearer, Oliver W. Greer, John F. Kell and Harry M. King.

“Among Miss Kurtz’s few survivors is Mrs. Augusta Copenhaver, now living in Pittsburgh, who is a first cousin of Miss Kurtz on her father’s side.”

Amelia Margaret Kurtz was just one of the many noble women of York County who ministered to the soldiers during the Civil War but she may have been the most consistent in her tireless dedication. She was a familiar and welcome sight at the U. S. Army Hospital, where her legacy lived well after the war. She may be the kindhearted local woman who is mentioned in a few letters from hospital patients back home to their lived ones as reading to them and tending to their needs.

In any event, she remains a heroine.